A Spying Eye
By Michelle Cox
Genre: Historical fiction, Mystery, Romance
Review by Hannah Lawson | Last updated Jun 5, 2023
A well-researched and dynamic mystery, full of intrigue and startling revelations.
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A Spying Eye, the sixth instalment of the Henrietta and Inspector Howard detective series, follows the dynamic duo as they embark on their second attempt at a peaceful honeymoon. However, as this is a detective fiction novel, peaceful is the very last thing that this honeymoon will be!
Whilst in London, Henrietta and Inspector Clive Howard are visited by an old friend with a fascinating case – that of the missing panel from the Ghent Altarpiece, rumoured to be squirrelled away in the secluded Chateau du Freudeneck in Strasbourg. Luckily for our sleuths in love, the Chateau belongs to none other than the Von Harmon family, distant relatives of Henrietta. Under the pretence of reconnecting with her long-lost family, Henrietta and Clive race to find the missing panel whilst navigating the treacherous world of espionage and Nazis in the tense, pre-World War II landscape.
Meanwhile, back in Chicago, Elsie – Henrietta’s younger sister – and Gunther – Elsie’s love interest – face challenges of their own. Upon the threat of financial ruin from Elsie’s grandfather, should the couple marry, a man claiming to be Anna’s biological father makes an appearance and a bid for her care. Desperation leads Elsie to confide in Julia, Inspector Howard’s sister, whose head has been turned by a mysterious, yet handsome Texan lawyer.
Within the space of 361 pages, Michelle Cox has managed to weave together two separate stories so competently that not once did I get lost. Both narrative arcs were easily defined by the change in character perspective, switching between the fraught landscape of Europe approaching World War II and the glamorous life of the rich in Chicago with relative ease.
As with any story with a dual narrative, there is a lot going on. A Spying Eye is filled to the brim with drama and intrigue in both arcs, sometimes to the point of disbelief and I felt like it was constantly moving onto the next big shocking thing. Admittedly it did increase the pace (and I understand the necessity for this) but I didn’t really get the chance to breathe and fully experience the motivations behind the choices that the characters made.
The characters themselves, despite being firmly entrenched within the mid-1930s felt incredibly real. As A Spying Eye is the sixth book in the series, they are all very well developed already with good chemistry in their interactions, making the dialogue feel refreshingly natural. Henrietta and Elsie are both still relatively young and it definitely shows in this novel, especially in their responses to the challenges they face. Henrietta in particular had a tendency to throw herself headfirst into a situation without thinking and I did become quite annoyed by this, but it made her character more real for me as it reflected her youth and her inexperience with detective work remarkably well.
While some (but not all!) of the characters’ intentions are lacking in detail, the effort and the research that has been put into this novel are certainly not. It is clear, particularly in Henrietta and Clive’s arc, that Cox has dedicated a lot of time delving into the Ghent Altarpiece mystery. I’m not familiar with the intricacies of this mystery, only knowing that there’s a panel missing, but upon reading I discovered much of the story alongside Henrietta. Cox cleverly described it in an easily accessible way without being condescending to her readers.
The mystery elements of the novel were all very well timed, and, as any good detective novel should have, incorporated multiple twists and turns as it unravels. Some of these I happily guessed, others, including the main one, I didn’t (and I’m still a bit cross with myself for not seeing it coming!) But isn’t that the thrilling part of detective fiction? I definitely think so.
A Spying Eye may be jam-packed with intrigue, plots upon sub-plots, startling revelations and espionage, but it really does make for easy, enjoyable reading. You can’t help but wish for the best for the characters and hope that they overcome the challenges they face.